And Now, the End is Near …

dahlias1Spring has sprung.

This course is done.

How does my garden grow?

This marks the end of Building Social Media Relationships at McMaster University for me.

I’ve learned a ton about the use of social media, its impact on our society and the perils and pitfalls that can affect individuals, businesses and many different types of organizations that ignore these global communication platforms.

This course has also sparked my creativity in a way that I hadn’t anticipated.

For now though, this specific blog is moving into archive mode.

Thanks for reading.

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Victory Vibes: Whatever it Takes

They are special artifacts, these matte silver earrings I bought at my favourite store in Parry Sound, Ontario.

Lucky silver earrings by Shelly Easton

Lucky silver earrings by Shelly Easton

Oval shaped and lightweight, the smooth edge is roughed up on one side (accidentally stepped on at a hockey rink) of the earring that is always worn on my left ear.

You see these are my “lucky” earrings — I wear them to my son’s hockey games and my daughter’s dance competitions for just that, good luck.

It is a ritual that is symbolic of crazy superstitions, crazier hair, and even crazier head gear, face painting, clothing and activities that binds me to the nations of fans, no matter what their passions, all around the world.

Rituals and celebrations are what differentiate us as humans. They bind us together and in some cases, like hooligans after a dramatic win or loss, tear us apart. But they are so vital to building a richness and bond to others.

And sometimes, just sometimes, they actually work.

Case in point: my son’s hockey team was down three games in a best-of-seven all-Ontario semi-final playoff before last night. They won 1-0 in overtime to play another day.

Those lucky earrings were jingling back and forth on my left ear as I jumped up and down to celebrate!

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Image courtesy of dan at

Image courtesy of dan at

We like to think because we live in Canada that somehow we are safer than our neighbours to the south.

After the most recent gun incidents — gang members shot dead in a Yorkdale Mall parking lot on a Saturday night and a man shot dead in front of dozens of preschoolers at a Gatineau daycare — it’s fair to say that we, too, have a gun problem.

And while I’m not about to start advocating that everyone become hermits and give in to these incredibly selfish, evil people, it saddens me to think that we need to be prepared for gun violence no matter where we live.

Here’s what Kristina Anderson, a survivor of the Virginia Tech shootings, told the New York Times as part of recent research into surviving mass attacks: “Everywhere I go now, I think about exits and doorways and potential places to hide and things to barricade and fight back with.”

What a heartbreaking commentary on how people are choosing to live in an age where human life seems to be, to some people, totally disposible — no matter what their state of mind.

These mass attacks have prompted large organizations to also prepare videos on what to do if you find yourself in this type of situation. The Houston police department created a YouTube video called Run.Hide.Fight. that has received more than two million views.

On a positive note, perhaps the sharing enabled through social media sites like YouTube will protect innocent lives.

What do you think?

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To Sell is Human: We’re All Doing It

Once upon a time, New York Times best-selling author Daniel Pink wrote a book titled To Sell is Human. Every day, he says, one in nine Americans (similar for Canadians) work in sales, but actually everyone, no matter what they do, sells. One day, Pink discovered the old sales mantra of ABC or Always Be Closing didn’t apply anymore. Because of that, there’s a new definition of ABC, which is attunement, buoyancy and clarity. Because of that, Pink offers people a new way to look at some standard tools of public relations and marketing. Until finally, readers have three specific areas to work on to achieve success:  improvisation, serving others and refining the pitch.”

It’s been a dream to start a piece of writing with the age-old fairy tale opening of “Once upon a time” ever since a colleague at the Calgary Herald managed to get a feature story in the newspaper with that very beginning in 1984.

Almost 30 years later, it turns out that crystallizing a concept into a six-sentence pitch with a fairy-tale opening is the optimal way to successfully sell it to a movie executive. It’s called the Pixar pitch.

To Sell is Human

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

The approach is one of several examples Daniel Pink gives in his book, To Sell is Human (Riverhead), an entertaining compilation of new and old public relations and marketing ideas that come from the worlds of psychology, sociology, statistical analysis and prominent business theory.

Pink argues that most of us are in the business of sales or “non-sales selling” in our jobs and our lives because we are essentially moving, persuading or influencing people to buy, either literally or figuratively, what we’re offering. It could be our boss, our child, our patient or our customer. In the business world, this shift can be attributed to technology like the Web, he says, citing Etsy, an online marketplace for small businesses and craftspeople as one example. “The technologies that were supposed to make salespeople obsolete in fact have transformed more people into sellers.” (p. 30)

Activity is such, he says, that “… in astonishing numbers and with ferocious energy, we now go online to sell ourselves –on Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and profiles.” (p. 20) This shift in behaviour translates into a workforce where, for example, engineers or computer scientists, not sales people, are now out meeting customers so they can acquire first-hand knowledge about the customers’ likes and dislikes with a product, troubleshoot problems that may not have been identified and solicit new ideas for future development.

Everyone does everything

Image courtesy of keawpiko at

Image courtesy of keawpiko at

What does this mean for employees in traditionally defined roles in public relations and marketing? The same as it does for everyone: adaptability, flexibility, multi-skilled, creative are all terms that should apply to all staff in all organizations. Pink, a former White House speechwriter who earned a Yale law degree, notes, “What an individual does day to day on the job now must stretch across functional boundaries. Designers analyze. Analysts design. Marketers create. Creators market.” (p.36)

Pink suggests the old ABCs approach of selling – Always Be Closing – as defined in David Mamet’s award-winning play and the subsequent movie Glengarry Glen Ross is dead. The new ABCs are three key qualities that everyone can acquire to move or persuade others: attunement, buoyancy and clarity.

The new ABCs: attunement, buoyancy, clarity

Attunement by his definition is a combination of refined listening skills, strategic mimicry and empathetic behaviour. This state of attunement translates well into social media where organizations should be actively listening online to the public so they can better meet the needs of their customers.

Buoyancy means acquiring resiliency and perseverance with a positive outlook. In fact,

Image courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul at

Image courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul at

Pink argues that positivity is essential to moving others in a world redefined by the internet and social media. People crave authenticity, gravitate to genuine emotion, have access to vast amounts of information and choice on the Web, and through social media have easy access and instant audiences available to express their displeasure to, so the days of a sales person excelling simply at selling are over.

The third quality, clarity, is achieved by shifting from a problem-solver mindset to a “problem-finder” one, Pink writes. Today, marketers online and in person must curate information, rather than access it by “… sorting through the massive troves of data and presenting to others the most relevant and clarifying pieces.” (p. 132) Secondly, they must shift from answering questions to asking questions, in order to uncover possibilities, find problems and build relationships. This is a fundamental principle in social media, where questions are often used to generate conversation and sharing across networks and platforms.

The value of improv, serving others and refining the pitch

Pink offers three areas to focus on to improve the ability to move or influence people’s behaviour. He highlights the benefits of improvisation (having participated in an improve workshop lead by a Second City cast member I can attest to the benefits of this “experiential learning”) and the intrinsic value of operating with a “serving others” approach. And he presents several examples of “pitching” –the one word pitch, the question, the rhyming pitch, the subject-line pitch, the Twitter pitch and the Pixar pitch, a template approach using six sequential sentences that was used at the opening of this report.

Finally, in the spirit of applying more theory to practice, the rhyming pitch is offered as a closing example of how I might incorporate Pink’s points into my use of social media: Perfect the Pixar pitch because it could make you six-figures rich.

Note: This post was originally submitted as a book report for McMaster University’s Building Social Media Relationships course (#bsmrcce).

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Bravo for ‘Bossy’: Sandberg, Girls and Leadership

“I want every little girl who [is told] they’re bossy to be told instead, “You have leadership skills.”

                         — Sheryl Sandberg on 60 Minutes, March 10, 2013

Reprinted from The Guardian

Reprinted from The Guardian


Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer for Facebook, hit the headlines this past week with the publication of her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (Knopf). Simultaneously, she launched a website,, to offer women educational information, encouragement and forums to share career experiences and aspirations and take part in “lean-in circles.”

Her comments about girls and leadership were just some that aired during a 60 Minutes interview that kicked off a week of publicity tours, op-ed pieces, blog posts and commentary far and wide, both pro and anti-Sandberg.

She has many points to make on the topic of women, how they fare in the workplace and how they can and should aspire to lead.

I haven’t read her book yet so I’m only commenting on what I’ve read and heard about it. I’m curious to see for myself what she’s proposing but some of her points, including that women should lean in, rather than lean back, and take leadership and senior roles in their workplaces resonates loud and clear.

In some circles she’s been criticized because she has a Harvard education and is a multimillionaire. Her critics grouse: She’s out of touch. Her experience doesn’t mirror the thousands of women who don’t have the same credentials and socioeconomic status that she does. She made her money with generous stock options at Google and Facebook. The underlying message is that she really didn’t have to work that hard to get where she did. She was privileged. And, horrors, this is a self-proclaimed “feminist” manifesto.

Really? Is that really as far as we’ve come in the second decade of the 21st century?

Rather than subtly attacking her pedigree, why aren’t we applauding her achievements? Why aren’t we saying, “Bravo, Ms. Sandberg for earning a Harvard degree.” (Two actually.) And “Bravo, Ms. Sandberg, you’re a role model and a leader who has achieved great success at two of the world’s most successful technology companies.”

I’m sure I’m not going to agree with everything Sandberg proposes but I love that she’s opened the conversation up again. I’m relishing the debates and the questions that have slowly started to take shape among my colleagues and my peers.

I’d much rather herald Sandberg’s points of view as starting points for discussion with my daughter as counterpoints to the bombardment of infantalized and sexualized images of women portrayed on Say Yes to the Dress or The Bachelor.

From one “bossy” woman to another: Bravo, Sheryl.

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A sweet Canadian icon

It’s a sugar rush unlike any other.

One Tim Hortons timbit offers up an injection of sweetness that makes it almost impossible to have just one.

Two bites is all it takes to experience the sweet satisfaction of the sugar saturated morsel – a true Canadian icon.

Don’t think about the calories. Just pass on adding the sugar into your regular double-double and go for a timbit.

If you can’t resist, snack packs come in 10, 20 and 40 timbit sizes.

Sour-cream glazed are my favourite. How about you?

Disclaimer: As part of a class assignment I was given a free timbit and asked to review it.

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Social Media at Conferences: Does it help or hurt?

Image courtesy of smarnad at

Image courtesy of smarnad at

Does social media work at a conference?My verdict: sort of. It all depends on how engaged and well versed conference participants are in actually using social media.

Last week I road tested “live tweeting” during the annual CASE District 2 conference, held this year in Pittsburgh. People were using Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram but I concentrated on the use of Twitter.

By the way, CASE stands for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. It’s one of two organizations that provide professional development for people who work in fundraising, alumni relations, stewardship and donor relations and public relations in the higher education sector in North America.

(The Canadian equivalent is the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education or CCAE. This year’s national conference is in St. John’s, Newfoundland June 8 to 10.)

Where’s the hashtag?

I anticipated there would be robust dialogue at #case2pitt because we are inundated with the message that social media, in particular Twitter, is where it’s at in the university sphere. After all, one of our largest audiences are digitally savvy young people.

Prior to the conference starting, the Twitter stream was mainly devoted to promoting individual seminar presentations. In fact, initially it was difficult to actually determine what the conference hashtag was, as the pre-conference communication was minimal.

Once I found the stream it was easy to pinpoint who the active users were going to be – they were talking to each other via Twitter and making plans to get together before and after sessions. At times, this sidetracked communication from conference sessions as their posts became a little too “Insider Baseball” as author Joan Didion would say. The messages were so convoluted and specific to the folks talking that they were hard to decipher or to have meaning to an observer.

Courtesy of Katie's Krops website

Courtesy of Katie’s Krops website

On the positive side, I did find someone new to follow using social media: Katie Stagliano, 14, from Katie’s Krops. She described how, at age 8, she became a “cause marketer” after donating her 40-pound cabbage grown from seed to a local soup kitchen.

She now has a national charity devoted to fighting hunger, with children across the U.S. planting vegetable gardens and then donating the food to those in need. She uses Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to get her message out. Check her out.

And what of my live tweeting experience from @EastonShelly?

It was hard! I found it difficult to listen, tweet and concentrate on the presenters’ next comments all at once. There was a fear I would misinterpret what I heard and send out something that was incorrect to the Twitterverse.

Yet, I was retweeted once and two tweets were favourited so that was fulfilling:

Donna Talarico retweeted you                                        

Mar 4:

@KatiesKrops Inspirational. Thank you for sharing your powerful cause marketing story. Continue to be an “expert” in your cause.#case2pitt

Donna Talarico

In the end, I appreciated being able to review all the tweets at the end of the day but they didn’t give me a solid understanding of sessions I missed as I originally anticipated.

In my books, Twitter is often akin to listening to the radio: you hear bits and pieces here and there and you may retain small parts of a story but it’s not something you can count on for the full picture.

Maybe that’s Instagram?

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